Greater Manchester Combined Authority

Flashcard App – Delivering Mobile Operational Information for Greater Manchester Fire Service

Briefly describe the initiative/ project/service; please include your aims and objectives

The Challenge – The Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) inspected Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service in January 2019 and recommended that the Fire Service improve its sharing of up-to-date operational information.

The Idea – A Fire Fighter at GMFRS suggested an idea to share Operational guidance documents (stored centrally on a Corporate Document Centre system) with Fire Fighters using a mobile phone application. These documents would provide details of different hazard and incident types and potential actions to be taken. The new documents would be designed to be brief, summarising the key points from the full guidance and easily accessed and viewed on a mobile phone. They would be called ‘Flashcards’. Tom Wilkes, from our Digital team, worked with the Fire Fighter to develop an innovative solution.

The Key Objectives
• All Fire Fighters should have access to the application across the whole organisation
• The documents should made available via a mobile phone application and the Mobile Data Terminals (MDT) installed on Fire Appliances
• New documents created centrally on our Corporate Document Centre system should be automatically available on the application
• Quick filter and search features so users can quickly access what they need
• Pinch and zoom to view documents and images clearly
• A ‘favourites’ option to store commonly used guidance

What are the key achievements?

– Fire Fighters can now access up to date operational guidance documents on their phones whilst attending any incident, this was not possible previously
– HMICFRS Inspectors, after a follow up inspection in Autumn 2020, recently praised GMFRS as follows, “Innovative practice Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service has developed an app to display operational flashcards on both mobile data terminals and officers’ mobile phones. This allows instant access to standard operating procedures”
– We used a combination of technologies (PowerApps, PowerAutomate and SharePoint online) never used together before (at GMFRS) to provide an obvious improvement to our mobile applications provision
– We influenced other Digital projects and developments

How innovative is your initiative?

– We solved a problem, in that there was no way, using our existing systems to view these types of documents directly via a mobile phone application
– This project was the first time all three technologies (PowerApps, PowerAutomate and SharePoint online) had been utilised together in one application at GMCA
– We developed a PowerApps mobile application with advances search capabilities so that documents can be found quickly and viewed easily by Fire Fighters
– We integrated SharePoint online document storage with current legacy on-premises document storage and used PowerAutomate ‘Flows’ to automate the moving of documents to / from the Cloud (SharePoint online)
– We used PowerAutomate functions to read physical file names and attributes, build logic and groups to define document categories and subsequently present a simple searchable interface to users
– We also used experimental features to convert the source Word Documents to PDF files ‘on the fly’ dynamically within the application itself

What are the key learning points?

– We have learnt that accessing SharePoint online documents and lists using a PowerApp can be a very powerful way to view documents and information using a mobile device
– PowerApps is a ‘low code’ development environment and allows for quick prototyping of mobile applications (either phone or tablet based). This supported our Agile project development lifecycle
–  Power Automate is a continually expanding, powerful automation tool, which hooks into many systems to be able to extract, transform and load data to / from various locations (Cloud based or in house SQL server etc.)
– The actual idea is very simple and scale-able, with the approach suiting any organisation with a need to share document libraries (or any information that is stored in SharePoint)
– The exact same technologies could be utilised to create the same type of application (PowerApp) and workflows (PowerAutomate)